Eating well

Food plays a vital role in maintaining physical and mental health. Eating a nourishing, balanced diet helps to give people an overall sense of wellbeing.

Australian Dietary Guidelines1

  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits.
  • Eat plenty of cereals, preferably wholegrain, such as breads, rice, pasta and noodles.
  • Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives.
  • Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives (preferably low-fat varieties).
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.

Supplements

General vitamin/mineral supplements

Supplements are only of value if your diet is lacking something. Vitamins such as A, D and E are not recommended in high doses. It’s best to speak to your GP or another health professional about adding extra supplements to your diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These are found in seafood (tuna, mackerel, perch, sardines and herring) and can work in a similar way to antidepressant medication. However, they can also cause side-effects, including blood clotting disorders, and should only be taken under the medical supervision by someone who is experienced in their use.

Nutritional challenges

If you are experiencing anxiety or depression, you might find it challenging to eat properly.

This might be from a lack of motivation, loss of appetite or comfort eating, using drugs or alcohol as a coping strategy, irregular meals, feelings of isolation, or financial insecurity.

Lack of energy/motivation

Keep things as simple as possible and ask for support from friends or family if necessary.

Some tips:

  • include food-related activities, such as grocery shopping, cooking and eating, in your daily timetable
  • learn to prepare simple, quick, healthy meals and use frozen pre-cut vegetables to save time
  • make use of online shopping and home-delivered groceries
  • use times when you are feeling well to cook large quantities of food to freeze
  • use frozen or home-delivered meals (such as Meals on Wheels or meals from commercial providers), which are better than no meals at all. 

Weight loss

Loss of appetite is common if you are experiencing anxiety or depression. If you are underweight, snack regularly on nutritious, energy-dense foods (such as cheese and biscuits or dried fruit and nuts) and try exercising to stimulate your appetite. Meal replacement supplements may be required for some people – but talk to a doctor, dietitian or pharmacist first.

Weight gain

Weight gain is common for people who are experiencing anxiety or depression if you are not physically active, are comfort eating and/or eating unhealthy foods.

Some antidepressant medications, particularly mirtazapine, tricyclic antidepressants and lithium (a mood stabiliser), can cause weight gain. Regular exercise and healthy eating can help minimise weight gain. Maintaining your weight may be more achievable than weight loss.

Consult your doctor or dietitian for specific advice, they might need to refer to a psychologist may be required to address the causes of comfort eating or binge eating.

Postnatal depression and breastfeeding

Women who are breastfeeding need to eat a healthy diet and drink more water. If you are experiencing postnatal anxiety or depression, you might lose your appetite and feel additionally tired, making it more difficult to eat properly and drink enough water. This can lead to a drop in your milk supply.

If you are breastfeeding:

  • keep healthy snacks handy like cheese and crackers, fresh fruit or raw vegetables and dip
  • ask a friend or family member to help you with the preparation of healthy meals you can freeze such as soups and casseroles
  • avoid dieting during the first few months after birth as your body needs extra energy to produce milk
  • get your iron levels checked.

Eating disorders

Anxiety and depression are common for people with eating disorders.This is especially the case for anorexia nervosa because the physiological effects of semi-starvation and extremely low body weight can affect your mental health. People with an eating disorder whose weight is ‘normal’ (such as those with bulimia nervosa) are still at risk of anxiety and/or depression. This can be a consequence of fasting, purging and chaotic eating. Sometimes anxiety or depression can lead to an eating disorder.

People with eating disorders should seek support from a team of health professionals with medical, psychological and nutritional expertise. Recovery from an eating disorder, and any associated anxiety or depression, involves improving your diet, adopting regular eating patterns and returning to a healthy weight. Addressing and resolving any personal, family and social issues is also important.

 

 

1. National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults. Canberra: Australian Government.
 2. Linda Parent (2009) Depression and Eating Disorders [online]. Available at: http://www.everydayhealth. com/depression/eating-disorders-and-depression.aspx [Accessed online January 2014].

 

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